Determining fault in a car accident case is a complex process requiring the examination of a multitude of conditions. What seems to be the obvious cause for an accident isn’t always the true or only cause. This also applies to motorcycle accidents.
Here are several aspects of crash liability that can complicate each case:
1. Third-party liability
Did you know that it’s possible for a third-party to cause or contribute to a crash without being involved in the actual crash?
Imagine a driver in Texas making a right-hand turn at a stop sign, except the driver doesn’t stop. Another driver traveling straight ahead in the same direction slams on the brakes because they weren’t expecting the first driver to run the stop sign. The driver who ran the stop sign speeds away unharmed, but the driver who slammed on the brakes gets rear-ended by another driver.
In this example, the driver who ran the stop sign caused the accident between the two other vehicles. Unfortunately, if that driver isn’t found, the driver who rear-ended the other car will likely be held financially responsible for the crash. However, if the stop-sign-running driver can be found, then they would likely be held at least partially responsible, if not entirely responsible.
But wait – there’s more. Say the driver who ran the stop sign didn’t know they were supposed to stop because there was no stop sign and the painted lines on the street were faded into oblivion. In this case, the blame would fall on the Texas Department of Transportation.
According to Crain, Lewis & Brogdon, the DOT is responsible for maintaining the safety of all roads and if a missing street sign or pothole causes an accident, the agency can be held liable.
2. Proximate cause
Similar to the example above, proximate cause can complicate a car crash case. For instance, say you’re driving down the backroads on your way to grab a bite to eat when a car swerves into your lane and hits the side of your car. That driver caused your vehicle damage and injuries, but might not be the proximate cause of the accident.
Say that driver swerved to avoid a pedestrian jaywalking. In that case, the pedestrian would be the proximate cause of the accident. You might think pedestrians can get away with jaywalking because if a car hits them, the driver will be held responsible but that’s not always true. Although pedestrians “always have the right of way,” they can be held responsible for a car accident.
Pedestrians are expected to act with reasonable care anytime they cross the street or are otherwise in the same area as vehicles. If a pedestrian acts in a careless manner – like crossing the street where there is no crosswalk – they can be held liable for any accident that results from their careless act. The most likely scenario is the pedestrian will be held partially liable for the accident (if they survive).
3. Comparative negligence
This aspect of fault distributes legal liability between responsible parties according to their role in the crash. For example, say the driver of a blue car backs out of a parking space without looking and hits a red car pulling into the lot. If the driver of the red car was talking on their cell phone and not paying attention to the blue car backing out, they’ll share in the responsibility for the crash.
The judge might assign the driver of the blue car 80% liability and the driver of the red car 20% liability. Since the driver of the red car has to assume 20% of the blame, their ability to recover compensation for their injuries will also decrease by 20%.
4. Modified comparative negligence
Modified comparative negligence is comparative negligence with one exception: when the liability given to any party meets or exceeds a certain percentage (usually 50%), they are barred from pursuing any compensation whatsoever.
Liability is complex – a lawyer can help you out
If you’re reading this because you’ve been involved in an accident and want to understand how fault works, your best bet is to contact an attorney to discuss your case. A good lawyer will review your case and let you know if you’re more or less liable than you think you are. Don’t try to figure it out on your own. Let a professional sort it out.